30 days of blogging, Day 4

 I got a bit of work done on my dissertation proposal edits today because my wife took the kiddo to the local butterfly conservatory again. She loves that place. 

Today was the first time Avery had zero naps. I tried to get her down twice, and she even laid herself down in bed and looked sleepy, but just never drifted off. It was an emotional afternoon, but she fell asleep at bedtime in the blink of an eye (as opposed to the usual hour).

I also reached 300 followers today, which is so awesome! I remember when 200 seemed so far away… I hope that most of my followers actually enjoy reading some of what I share. If you’re reading this, thank you! I really love being able to share my life with you. 

Writing a Dissertation Takes FOREVER

I’m still at the proposal stage. This is my third proposal in three years. The first proposal I wrote was my favourite, but my community partner fell through (I was supposed to work with PFLAG, but the ED stopped returning my calls and emails with no explanation). My second proposal was co-developed by a co-advisor whom I decided not to work with in the end, and just as the advisor didn’t suit me, the ideas in the proposal didn’t suit me either. The third iteration, the one I’m working on right now, is similar to the last one, but I’m writing it in a very different way, and the experimental design is adjusted to an extent that requires a lot of extra background literature review.

Although I was back to work part time in January (while caring for my baby full-time), I only worked on a teaching assistantship. I was able to do all of my marking and student correspondence with the baby strapped to me in a wrap. In the summer semester (starting in May), I knew I wanted to go back to working on my dissertation, so I opted out of a teaching assistantship so I’d have time to work on my own stuff. However, it turned out that at around 9 months babies start getting into things and refuse to be strapped to a warm body for hours on end. I got very little work done over the summer. I did somehow manage to submit a draft of my proposal to my advisor, which I completed on the occasional weekend afternoon when my wife would take the baby.

Now my kid is only getting more and more active, and it’s increasingly difficult to work while I’m with her. But, we have 12 hours a week of daycare. If I’m honest, I probably do focused work for 6 or 7 of those hours (the rest is spent driving to and from daycare, showering, eating, and occasionally blogging).

It’s slow going. I got edits back from my advisor mid-September and right now my proposal looks like someone hacked at it with a knife. I find myself needing to read new bodies of literature, and also play catch up on recent additions to my own field since I stopped making time to read articles (oh look, someone did my exact idea already… glad it worked so well for them…).

I’m discouraged. I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have god knows how many months left of proposal writing. I have to finish this draft, have it reviewed by my advisor, incorporate his second round of edits, have it reviewed by my committee, incorporate their edits and hope it’s not a complete rewrite, and only then can I actually start developing the tools I will need to conduct my experiments. Data collection and analysis feel impossibly far away. I can’t even picture myself writing my final dissertation. I’ll be a wrinkly, old lady by then. My daughter will be starting work on her own PhD by then. At least that’s what it feels like.

I so badly want to contribute financially to my family. Some days I want to quit this PhD thing and get a job, but then I’ll have wasted the past 4 years. Just have to keep plugging away…

The Work-At-Home-Parent

I see a lot of posts on social media about what it means to be a stay at home parent or a working parent, how these parents made the decision to stay at home or go back to work, and the guilt and pressures they feel about their decision (because ALL parents feel guilt). I find I can’t relate to these articles about how to be productive as a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM), or how to deal with guilt over leaving your kids with someone else all day as a working parent. I don’t see posts about work at home parents, and I think that we have a unique experience that should be shared. 

I take care of my baby full time with the exception of a few hours some weekends when I escape to a coffee shop to get some focused work done. I took a 4 month leave from all other duties when she was born, but then returned to my two work duties: I do work with a not for profit, and I’m a part time PhD student. I currently set my own hours, but I have timelines and deadlines to meet. I make very little money. Here’s how I made my decision to be a WAHM, and the struggles, guilt and pressure I feel about my decision. I suppose I should end on a happy note, so I’ll also share the great parts of my arrangement. 

*recycling an old photo I took for a previous post about being a WAHM

The Decision

 The decision to be a WAHM was really a decision to become a mom while I was still a grad student. We thought about waiting until I had a paying job to start our family, but the future was uncertain (when would I finish, would I find a job, would the career path be forgiving of taking a parental leave…). We also liked the idea of saving money on childcare if I could manage both school and baby, since I work from home at this stage in my PhD. My not for profit work was the same deal. I was already involved, and figured that as long as I could balance everything, I’d keep it up after the baby came (turns out I couldn’t balance that many things, so I’m resigning from the NFP at the end of my term at the end of this month). 

The Struggles 

  • There’s an expectation that because I’m home and don’t have billable hours that I’m free to run errands and do extra cleaning and household tasks. While it’s true that I can throw laundry in and prep dinner while I work from home, every household task that I throw into the mix takes away time that I could/should be working. And I actually love cleaning, so if my wife points out how dirty it is behind the fridge, I’m going to want to clean the kitchen instead of get work done. And I have very little self control. 
  • Self control… I’m a good self-directed worker as long as the work is peaking my interest, but if there is something more interesting to do – like play with the baby or clean that part of the house that has been bothering me – I struggle with the self control to get Work done. 
  • Taking care of the baby is often not labeled as work, so if I work part time on school, there’s an expectation that I have part time hours to devote to something else. My life would be infinitely more balanced and supported (and I would feel I finitely more validated) if parenting was seen as legitimate Work in the eyes of our society. 

The Guilt

  • Because I’m doing my PhD part time now to accommodate parenting, it’ll be longer before I can contribute financially to the family in a meaningful way. I’m also not taking on the little paid side projects I used to do. 
  • I sometimes have to turn the TV on to distract the baby when her toys have become boring and I need to keep working.
  • I worry that she’ll think she’s being ignored because I’m not engaging with her, when really I’m trying so hard to peel my attention off of her and how cute she is so I can focus on my work. I don’t want her to think that I prefer looking at my laptop over her. 
  • I also don’t want her to learn that it’s ok to ignore people when you have a shiny screen in front of you. 

    How I Manage

    • I let her nap in the way that she’ll nap the longest and most soundly – on me in the Moby wrap. Despite how hard we’re trying to control her night time sleep habits, naps are when I get the most guilt free work done. There’s no way I’m giving up 2 hour naps, even if I need to stand and sway for the whole time. I stand at my computer and it works beautifully, despite the sore legs and back. 
    • I enlist the help of my wife or my mom to watch her for a few hours a week while I go to particularly long meetings or do some intense focused work at a coffee shop. This was trickier when she breastfed every hour and a half and she refused to take the bottle, and tricky again when she was in the thick of stranger anxiety, and I’m sure we have yet to hit the peak of separation anxiety. But when we can make it work, it helps me a lot. 
    • I take her to short meetings and I am unapologetic about it. If a meeting is scheduled during her nap time or after bedtime (don’t go there…) I ask to reschedule or I decline. I also don’t hesitate to let her nurse during a meeting if she needs to, although now she is old enough to wait for the duration of most meetings. She has gotten really good at sitting next to me and playing with her toys while I’m in meetings. *it wasn’t always this easy though – the first big meeting I went to with her was when she was 1 month old and she screamed bloody murder the whole time. #Colic. 
    • I’m kind to myself. If society doesn’t constantly remind me how important and valid a job it is to be a parent, I’ll do it myself. My daughter is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of my day, and work will always come second. I’m lucky enough to be able to have these priorities and not get fired for it. 

      The Best Parts

      • I don’t miss a thing. I see every First and have an intensely close attachment with my baby. 
      • Things like laundry and meal prep are usually within my daily priority list, which makes our evenings and weekends a little more open to do fun family things. 
      • If my baby is sick or if we’ve had a particularly rough night, we can stay in our pyjamas all day and the Work can wait. 

        If you work from home with a baby, what are some of your lessons learned, challenges, guilty feelings… and what’s great about it? 

        Being a WAHM, PhD Mom

        There are parents out there who have multiple kids in their care full time, run a business from home, and seem to get cooking/cleaning/workouts/blogging and everything else done to boot. At least I think these parents exist… Maybe social media lies. Anyway, I don’t know how those superwomen (and super-parents of other genders) do it, even if they don’t look as polished and happy doing it when the camera is off and the Instagram is logged out.

        I’m struggling with full time care of my almost 6-month old while balancing one measly distance education teaching assistantship. We have started eating more Kraft Dinner and delivery pizza than healthy home cooked meals. My house is a disaster. I kid you not -and this is something I wish I was kidding about – there has been a barfed-up cat hairball on the landing of my stairs for 5 days now. 

        I’m staying on top of my paid work, but I’ve resorted to plopping Avery in the bumbo in front of some YouTube kids channel for half an hour while I marked papers. I mean, I have no problem with kids watching TV (I used to love it when the TV babysat me as a kid), but I can’t help feeling bad about it. She’s not even 6 months old. 

        So here I am feeling bad about myself already, and then comes the pressure to get my PhD done. I’m on a 2-semester leave of absence from dissertation work. Everyone in my life knows this, and yet people can’t seem to stop reminding me that I need to get back to it. When my baby was 1 month old my dad started asking “so how’s the PhD coming along?” My mom always asks when I’m going to be able to start working on it again with a concerned look in her eye because apparently taking a leave is a sign that I’m not serious about it anymore and might quit after all I’ve poured into it so far. My wife talks about how she can’t wait for me to start making a steady income. This is fair – being the sole wage-earner in the family would be stressful… but so is trying to balance full-time childcare with finishing this damn PhD everyone keeps reminding me about!

        I’m going back to “full time” studies in the summer. I don’t want to / can’t afford to put Avery in childcare this summer when she is only 7 months old (yes, we’re spoiled in Canada, getting accustomed to a 12 month parental leave – even though that doesn’t apply to students like myself). My wife luckily works much closer to home now and has been able to be home by 5 and help with bedtime, but in the evenings I’m too haggared to do a bunch of academic reading and writing. 

        While I feel shitty about myself and wonder how others manage to balance work and family, the reality is that I’m doing it. And this summer I can plop Avery in the grass to watch the birds in the garden instead of the TV and I’m sure I’ll feel better about ignoring her then. It feels like I’m failing sometimes, but the important things are getting done. That hairball can biodegrade on my floor for all I care.